HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 6)

A GUEST POSTING by MOZ

Hi JC (or Jim, or Mr Villain),

I’m the Moz who did the comment a week ago you said you laughed out loud at. As you can see from the name on my email, its a bit different, and no I’m not the erstwhile Smiths singer,I have a really shit middle name (family heirloom kind of thing, no, ‘family heirloom kind of thing’ isn’t my middle name, it’s actually Maurice). When my workmates eventually found out, they started to call me Moz, and I actually quite liked it after a while. It doesn’t take much typing, which is good, because I’m a lazy get.

Anyway, glad thats sorted, because I kind of felt that by naming me, you were throwing down some sort of gauntlet, or fingerless glove or something. I’ve been reading your blog for quite a few years now, going back to when it was on Bl****r,, but apart from doing the odd comment here and there, I have’nt really contributed, as I said, I am a lazy get. So, I have stirred myself, and have done a Grace Slick piece for your burgeoning ‘Had It,Lost it’ series. Please find it attached to this email.

Hope you like my piece, I won’t be offended if you don’t use it, If you need to edit it, because I do go on a bit, please don’t stitch me up so it looks like I’m a massive Starship fan! Don’t know how important it is, but I notice you tend to put people’s locations in, so just to say I’m from a town in the North-East of England called Darlington, where Vic Reeves grew up. So you can read this and my article with his accent.

OK, keep on rocking in the free world, its good to know there are others of a certain age who haven’t lost their fervour for good music.

Moz

Jefferson, I Think We’re Lost

In 2011, Rolling Stone Magazine ran an online poll, in which ‘We Built This City’ by Starship was overwhelmingly voted the worst song of the 1980s. Its co-vocalists were Mickey Thomas (no, not the Welsh international footballer), and Grace Slick who had been with the band since it’s Jefferson Airplane beginnings. The same Grace Slick who in the late 60s, was one of the very first female rock singers, widely considered to be one of the coolest and most intelligent people of the hippy era.

When Jefferson Airplane’s original singer Signe Toly Anderson left the group to start a family, they decided to recruit Grace Slick from a band that had often supported them, called The Great Society. It was a bit like a football team hovering above mid-table signing a striker with guaranteed goals in them in a bid to have a tilt at the title. Grace, you see, was able to bring a couple of brilliant songs with her, ‘Somebody To Love’ written by her soon to be ex-husband Darby, and the self-penned ‘White Rabbit’.

‘White Rabbit, in particular, has become an absolute iconic song, it’s lyrics link ‘Alice In Wonderland’ to psychedelic drugs, and whenever a film or TV programme requires some music to soundtrack a trippy experience, ‘White Rabbit’ is the song they reach for. Sometimes in all earnestness, and sometimes to send it up as a bit of a cliché, a la ‘The Simpsons’.

mp3 : Jefferson Airplane – Somebody To Love
mp3 : Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit

Slick then went on to consolidate her position as Premier Division Cool Rock Chick, increasingly politicised, she challenged the establishment with stunts such as blacking her face and making the Black Panther fist live on national TV, deciding to perform topless at a stormy outdoor concert because she didn’t want to get her blouse wet, and best of all, turning up at a White House party, where she was rumbled in a plot to spike Richard Nixon’s drink with LSD.

As the Airplane began to lose altitude in the 70s, Slick’s alcohol dependence increased astronomically, and continued into Jefferson Starship, which was launched when the Airplane finally crashed. The music became more straightforward rock, and just wasn’t really important anymore. Big in America, but fairly forgotten in the UK, where punk was busy having it’s visceral, coruscating levelling of the rock landscape. Although I would contend that her singing style was an influence on Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux.

In 1985, in the same month as ‘Psychocandy’ was released, ‘We Built This City’ a horrible, overblown song, redolent of session players with too much facial hair, and linen jackets pulled up to the elbow, was suddenly all over the charts, and all over the radio, and It took a while to connect the singer of this aural slop with Cool Grace from The Airplane.

After I got over the initial shock, I began to think. As an avid reader of the music weeklies, I was of the opinion that the coolest bands in 1985 were The Jesus & Mary Chain, REM, and The Smiths. If Grace Slick could go from super-cool to corporate rock vendor, what would become of these cool bands in the same time-span? Would Morrissey go from Right-On to Write-Off? Would The Jesus & Mary Chain drop the black clothes and The Velvet Underground influence and don Hawaiian shirts, proclaiming The Beach Boys were their biggest influence, and changing their name to The Mary Chain Boys? Would REM, yet to put a foot wrong, come to release an over-polished turd of an album, with an ‘Oh, lets just call it this’ title, like ‘Around The Sun’ ? Hmmm, hang on a minute…….

And then, just as I had got over ‘We Built This City’ over a year later, Slick and the Starship boys came back to assault our eardrums with a song that would become a karaoke staple forever, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’. In the mid-80s, soft rock, sorry, I can’t bring myself to give it the satisfaction of capital letters in order to genre-fy it, was seen as the enemy, in alliance with Stock, Aitken, & Waterman, it was music designed to make us realise how lucky us musically discerning types were to have discovered Sonic Youth.

So there it is then, the decline and fall of Grace Slick, she had it, and lost it, to the dark side of corporate soft rock. Except…. .

Shortly after the nadir of the mid-80s Starship output, Grace Slick left Starship, and re-formed Jefferson Airplane with mostly original members, admitting that her mid-80s output was indeed something of a nadir, and sort of regretting it, like waking up the morning after the office Xmas party, next to that one from Accounts, and thinking ‘Oh no, what have I done?’.

Then, after a (no doubt profitable) tour with The Airplane, she did a Captain Beefheart, and retired from music in order to paint. Pictures, not walls and skirting boards. She’s a white-haired old lady now, still often seen hawking her paintings at galleries. So she had it, lost it, but then (sort of ) acknowledged she lost it. She actually said that being an over-50 year old rock star was a bit silly. Obviously lots of over- 50 rock stars couldn’t hear her from their gravy train. Does that mean she is back to being Cool Grace again? Well, I’m not the one to give white-haired old ladies a hard time, so maybe its time to give her the benefit of the doubt. I’ve always treated the elderly with dignity, and nothings gonna stop us now. Bugger.

MOZ

12 thoughts on “HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 6)

  1. What an excellent piece Moz. I still find it hard to believe how Grace Slick managed to sing those terrible, awful MOR songs considering her 60s output. The starship didn’t take us to new, unexplored galaxies. It did make a few cynical musicians – and a heap of record company execs – a whole heap of cash though. Proof that the 80s really were the antithesis of the 60s.

  2. Most perfect writing, Moz, and welcome aboard here! I do hope there’s much more from you to come in in the near future!

  3. This is an example of an artist that REALLY had it and REALLY lost it. Also a super fun read. Good one, Moz, nice to read another familiar voice over at JC’s place!

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, although I think ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ is a poorer song. ‘Pictures, not walls and skirting boards’. Brilliant.

  5. I was somewhat apprehensive about popping my contributor cherry, but am now totally chuffed by all the comments above from such esteemed company. So thank you all, especially JC for his encouragement. Now I’ve done it, I do feel further utterances may be forthcoming, once I’ve basked a bit more in the afterglow!
    You’re right about the Starship taking a wrong turn The Robster, so many of the idealistic ‘what’s mine is yours’ musicians of the 60s had fallings out due to greed and avarice by the end of the 70s and into the 80s (The Eagles for instance).
    It wasn’t just Altamont that killed the hippy dream, it was a combination of harder drugs and filthy lucre.

  6. Great piece Moz! I think it’s a fair assessment that We Built This City represents EVERYTHING that was wrong with the music industry after about 1983. I have a soft spot for The Airplane as they were a band my older cousin played incessantly when I was a preteen – I think I knew all the words to White Rabbit by the time I was 11… Look forward to more from ya!

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